West Africa suspends Burkina Faso following a coup

In the past 18 months, the nation ECOWAS has suspended two other members, Guinea and Mali.


West African leaders on Friday decided to suspend Burkina Faso following a coup but will not impose other sanctions pending the outcome of talks with the junta, a participant at their summit said.

Conferring four days after the latest military takeover in their region, heads of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to send two missions to Ouagadougou. A mission of ECOWAS chiefs of staff will fly to the Burkinabe capital on Saturday, followed on Monday by ministerial-level envoys.

Leaders will meet again on February 3 in Accra to assess the outcome of these missions and see whether additional sanctions should be imposed along with suspension, the source said.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was seized by rebel soldiers on Monday amid rising anger at his failure to stem jihadist violence ravaging the impoverished nation. The new leader is Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, 41, a rising star in the military who commands an eastern region that has been badly hit by jihadists.

In the past 18 months, the 15-nation ECOWAS has suspended two other members, Guinea and Mali, where coups have occurred. But it has also imposed an array of sanctions against them, including measures targeting their leaders. 

At a virtual summit lasting around three hours, the ECOWAS leaders also called for Kabore and other detained leaders to be released.

On Tuesday, the bloc issued a statement of condemnation over the coup and accused the military of forcing Kabore to resign “under threat, intimidation and pressure.”

Junta appeal

Amid speculation on Thursday that ECOWAS would slap punishing sanctions on Burkina, Damiba made his first televised comments since the coup, asking for help from the country’s “international partners.”

“I call on the international community to support our country so it can exit this crisis as soon as possible,” he said.

Saying that he understood “legitimate doubts” triggered by the coup, Damiba said Burkina “will continue to respect international commitments, especially concerning respect for human rights,” and judicial independence would be “assured.”

He promised Burkina would “return to a normal constitutional life… when the conditions are right.”

The coup is the latest bout of turmoil to strike Burkina Faso, a landlocked and poor state that has suffered chronic instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Kabore, 64, was elected in 2015 following a popular revolt that forced out strongman Blaise Compaore.

Death and homelessness

He was re-elected in 2020, but the following year faced a wave of anger over the toll from a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali.

Since 2015, some 2,000 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally. Troops, police and a volunteer civil militia have paid a huge price, raising questions about their leadership, training and equipment in the face of a ruthless, mobile foe.

Some 1.5 million people are internally displaced in a country of 21 million, according to the national disaster management agency CONASUR.

Kabore’s well-being and whereabouts have been a key issue since the coup, with the United Nations leading calls for his release. On Wednesday, a source in his political party, the People’s Movement for Progress told AFP that the army was holding Kabore in a villa under house arrest.

“President Kabore is physically well, but I cannot say anything about his state of mind,” the source said. 

“He has a doctor available (and) access to his mobile phone, but under surveillance, obviously.”

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